How to Keep Your Whistleblower(s) “Happy” (or Satisfied)
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony – Mahatma Gandhi
Happiness is an elusive concept – for some. For others who may be more enlightened or lived for years, happiness is a feeling that can be attained by commitment, determination and awareness. My keys to happiness are love, gratitude and empathy.
Some people are “content” being unhappy. We all know people like that who are addicted to drama and feeling alive through misfortune.
The psychology of whistleblowers is an interesting topic to consider. Some whistleblowers are attracted to the challenge of vindication. Others just want to be heard by the company, but will go to great lengths to get that hearing.
Whatever you may think about whistleblowers, one things is for sure – they are dedicated and true believers in their own cause. However, in some cases, a whistleblower can lose perspective and becomes attached to the drama of their situation.
A company should always encourage whistleblowers. Even if one out of every ten whistleblower complaints has merit, the substance of these complaints can be critical to remedy problems in a company.
It is too risky, as a practical matter, to ignore whistleblowers. In the end a company has to establish a consistent protocol for encouraging whistleblowers, treating them fairly and listening to whatever they have to say. It is not hard to do so, if you keep an open mind.
Companies can into big trouble when they discourage whistleblowers, engage in subtle retaliation, and seek to silence whistleblowers’ voices.
A Chief Compliance Officer has to dedicate time and attention to this issue. If a company is allowed to discourage or retaliate against whistleblowers, a company’s culture will suffer significant harm. There is nothing more dangerous to a company than an environment where whistleblowers, managers and employees fear speaking up and raising employee concerns.
Over the last few years, surveys are revealing a disturbing trend – company retaliation against whistleblowers is increasing. CCOs have to act to nip such a problem in the bud.
A pre-defined protocol and procedure for handling employee concerns, and in particular, whistleblowers concerns, is an important policy to put in place. Consistent treatment of whistleblowers, and specific policies to implement such treatment, can mitigate the risk that a company will be accused of retaliating against a whistleblower.
If a company is going to have any shot at convincing a whistleblower to work within the company’s system and avoid running to the government to seek a financial reward, a company has to learn how to treat whistleblowers with respect, listen to whistleblowers and treat them fairly.
To carry out a positive whistleblower program, a company has to communicate with a whistleblower – listen and explain the process to the whistleblower (and his or her attorney, if appropriate). The more you listen, and do so with respect, the better chance of keeping the whistleblower in the company fold.
A second and equally important practice is to communicate with the whistleblower. Tell the whistleblower, in general terms, about the progress of the investigation; keep the whistleblower informed as to the status of the complaint process; and let the whistleblower provide information whenever he or she wants to add to the concern.
It is important, however, not to confuse treating a whistleblower fairly with making unjustified disclosures of information about the company’s investigation of the whistleblower’s complaint. A whistleblower should never be provided with confidential information relating to the substance of the investigation, or the details of the investigation. Such disclosures are unwarranted and dangerous because the whistleblower can use such information to second-guess a company’s investigation.
The key is to treat a whistleblower with respect, fairness and dignity. Every interaction with the whistleblower should be done professionally and with proper respect for the process and the company.